THERE has not been a BFNL A-grade game of netball played on these courts at Castlemaine since August 26, 2017.
But a more than four-and-a-half year absence is certain to end next April when the Magpies make a long-awaited and roundly applauded return to the top tier of Bendigo league netball. Not to mention much-anticipated.
It's been nearly two weeks since the club announced its high profile coaches for 2022, former Super Netball star Fiona Fowler (nee Themann) and respected multiple-premiership coach Gary Cooke, from Central Highlands league club Hepburn.
The appointments have generated plenty of buzz in central Victorian netball circles, particularly that of Fowler, who as recently as a few months ago was a feature in Collingwood Magpies' defence as a short-term replacement for injured captain Geva Mentor.
But while there is a genuine sense of optimism and excitement emanating from Camp Reserve, Fowler and Cooke acknowledge the hard work is only beginning, as the Magpies prepare to host their tryouts next month.
"We've certainly been getting a lot of feedback ... I know Fi has been getting lots of comments, so we are hoping the word is getting out there," Cooke said.
"It's an exciting time for us as coaches and it's certainly a challenge, one we are very much up for.
"It won't all happen overnight, but we're confident we can get there.
"It's just going to be great seeing A-grade netball back in Castlemaine. Hopefully, it's going to be great for the league and great for the town, and especially the club."
Cooke, whose involvement at Hepburn spanned 11 seasons for five premierships and 12 grand final appearances while coaching across multiple grades, said among the coaching tandem's first goals would be developing a brand new culture around Castlemaine netball.
The Magpies last A-grade season in 2017 brought just one win.
"We're not just about the now, we're keen to develop a culture for years to come," Cooke said.
"I've been involved at a couple of other clubs and I enjoy coming in when the club has been struggling and trying to it revamp it.
"Even my last club at Hepburn, they had rarely played finals at all and now they've played in finals for 12 or 13 years in a row.
"we're talking about a much tougher league here at Bendigo, with such brilliant quality netballers, but we want to be part of that and give it a real crack.
"It's going to be a challenge and there's a lot to do, but we have the energy and we're ready to do it."
Two of Cooke's five flags as a coach at Hepburn were at A-grade level, most recently in 2019 in what was Fowler's first season as a player for the Central Highlands league Burras.
The 31-year-old Fowler, who together with husband Jack and young son Teddy moved to the Castlemaine area a few months ago, is making a welcome return to the BFNL, having spent one season in the league in 2015 with Strathfieldsaye.
It was the year the Storm made their only A-grade grand final, finishing just four goals short of Golden Square, which went through the season undefeated.
Since then, Fowler's netball journey has taken her to Newbridge in their drought-breaking 2016 premiership season, Adelaide Lightning for two Super Netball seasons (2017 and '18) and back to Victoria for stints with the ANL's Victorian Fury, VNL's Melbourne University Lightning and Hepburn.
Despite having plied her trade at the highest levels of the sport, the class defender, who represented Scotland at the 2015 World Cup, has never lost her love or joy for grassroots netball.
It's part of what makes wanting to play a pivotal part in Castlemaine's rejuvenation so appealing.
"No matter where I've been or whatever level I've played at, I've always played county netty," Fowler said.
"If I have had a free weekend and as long as I have been allowed by my coaches, I've either jumped on the netball court wherever my husband was playing footy or somewhere else.
"It's that community feel, I absolutely love it. Footy-netty is just the backbone of communities. It's so fun, a good standard and it's where half your friendships come from and the relationships you make.
"I'm really passionate about country netball and having been at Hepburn for a few years, which has been awesome, I'm keen to be in a stronger league next year."
For Castlemaine Football Netball Club president Caleb Kuhle, the return of an A-grade team is something he has strived hard for since accepting the presidency in late-2019.
While respective win-loss records across the grades were no reflection, the Magpies made definite strides off the court in 2021.
The challenge now is to up the ante.
Kuhle views the signings of Fowler and Cooke as evidence the bar has been raised at Camp Reserve.
"It was part of the strategic plan to ensure the club's sustainability and get A-grade back and firing," he said.
"We've done a lot of the hard yards - and credit to the girls who have stuck by the club over the last two or three years, as it has been a really tough task.
"We've tried to make it fun socially and to look after them with all the mental health and well-being practices we've put in place.
"To have these coaches come in with the potential to drag in players and recruit our locals back is huge.
"I know if I was a player and my home club had gotten someone like Fiona in, I'd be doing everything I could to play with her and under her.
""The same goes for Gary. That experience, especially in netball ... netball coaches are hard to find ... and to get two of this calibre, you would be mad not to take advantage of the opportunity."
CASTLEMAINE TRYOUTS (A-grade, A-reserve, B-grade, B-reserve)
Friday, November 12: 6.30pm - 8pm;
Thursday, November 18: 6.30pm - 8pm.
To be held at Wesley Hill Recreation Reserve.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: